Eating Well at the Holidays

The holiday season is wonderful! We see friends and family, hear our favorite holiday songs, participate in beloved traditions and so much more! There is also all the delicious food. But, that delicious food can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, holiday foods are tasty, and skipping them can make us feel deprived of a seasonal treat. On the other, holiday treats tend to be high in calories, fat and/or sugar. So, how do you enjoy the holidays and eat without derailing your health plans?
 
When you’re making your own holiday treats, swap butter out for an equal amount of unsweetened apple sauce, use healthy oils and whole wheat whenever possible. Even these small changes can add up. Also, for savory dishes, avoid salt. You can bring the flavor with lots of spices without using salt. If you don’t want to add a ton of new (and sometimes expensive) to your pantry, brands like Mrs. Dash make seasoning mixes designed to flavor food without adding salt. If you are going to a gathering where everyone brings a dish, you don’t know how much salt other people are using. As salt can be so detrimental to heart health, it’s good to know that there is one thing on the table that is low in sodium.
 
If you are bringing a dish, consider making it vegetarian. While many nutritionists suggest making half your plate vegetables, many of us don’t when it comes to holiday buffets. (https://www.self.com/story/13-holiday-healthy-eating-tips-from-a-registered-dietitian) When there are so many good foods on a table, it’s hard to make yourself reach for salad tongs. But, it’s not a chore when that veggie is something healthy you like and made in your own kitchen. Eating a tasty vegetarian thing before hitting everything else can help you cut back on calories because you’ll be fuller from the fiber.
 
When eating delicious holiday treats, pay attention to your food, and ask yourself if you are enjoying it. Sometimes, we eat because we’ve started. It’s good to stop when you are satisfied. If there are foods you love, have a small portion, enjoy it and move on to other fares. Also, if there are foods you don’t particularly enjoy, don’t eat them just because of the holiday — if you aren’t a fan, don’t eat it just because it’s traditional.
 
Another small thing you can do is to step away from the buffet. Many of us eat yummy things just because they are near to us. Take your plate and move away. If you are still hungry in a while, go back but help yourself avoid eating mindlessly by making it so you need to take a second trip to get it. Sometimes ten steps can make a difference. In addition to walking to the buffet table, suggest a walk between dinner a dessert or after your meal. The most important thing about a gathering is the people. Focus on them and spending time together because the food isn’t key to enjoying yourself. Taking a little time to get exercise, and spending time with the company outside of the kitchen, lets you catch up with folks and enjoy the day without eating. And, anything that gets your heart pumping after a meal is a good thing.
 
Finally, here’s a tip we follow in our own lives: get rid of leftovers. If the party is at your house, send people home with food. If you’re a guest, and nothing is a “can’t miss” food, politely decline a doggy bag. Many of us feel we can’t waste food and so we eat things after a party just to get rid of it. Avoid that temptation — or the guilt of throwing away good food — by not having it in your fridge. Taking a plate home with you is fine, but taking a shopping bag full of goodies may lead to you eating things the next day without really enjoying them.
 
Armed with these tips, you can avoid a stomachache or regret. And remember, if you overindulge, tomorrow is another day. Overeating at a party happens to us all. Instead of beating yourself up, enjoy the gathering and have a salad the next day. One day of unhealthy food doesn’t have to derail your long-term plans!
December 13, 2019
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